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US: Taleban Fighters Were Killed in Battle, Not Massacred - 2001-11-28

U.S. officials say hundreds of mostly foreign Taleban fighters who were killed in a rebellion in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif died in a pitched battle and were not massacred. Amnesty International officials have called for an investigation into the deaths.

Red Cross officials continue the process of removing hundreds of bodies from the Qalai Janghi fort in Mazar-e-Sharif. The mostly foreign Taleban fighters, who were to be prisoners in the fort, died during a three-day rebellion.

The Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs, and other foreigners were brought to the fort after the Taleban surrendered the northern Afghan town of Kunduz.

Amnesty International officials called for an investigation into the deaths of the fighters. Ambassador Kenton Keith, a U.S. spokesman for the coalition information service in Islamabad, says the foreign Taleban fighters were not massacred.

"What happened in Mazar-i-Sharif was a pitched battle. It was a situation in which the people who were inside that fort acquired weapons. They took weapons, and when they did that they became combatants. They engaged in offensive action - they gave no quarter. The people they were able to kill, they killed," he said.

Mr. Keith says a number of Northern Alliance troops were killed during the rebellion. The U.S. diplomat says in hindsight, the transfer of the prisoners from Kunduz to Mazar-e-Sharif could have been handled better, but overwhelming force was not used to suppress the rebellion once it started.

He also says there were a number of coalition casualties, but said it is unclear how many. Northern Alliance commander General Rashid Dostum said two of his top commanders were killed in the fighting.

General Dostum, who controls Mazar-e-Sharif, also defended his fighters' actions - saying they were attacked by the foreign Taleban with grenades while escorting them into the fort. Other accounts say the rebellion began after some foreign Taleban seized the guns of Northern Alliance troops who were tying up other prisoners.